Wednesday, July 30, 2008


What a sublimely beautiful oratorio.

It had been quite a long time since I played with an orchestra (May, 2006) and longer still since I had played for an opera. I started out the week on a high playing wise because I had just had a lesson with Peter the night before I left for Norfolk so I was busy being excited about the bass "Oh, that's how I use the bow!" and the like. The first day of rehearsals was mostly sight reading and I have always enjoyed that part of the process of learning music- when everything is new and making mistakes is part of the game, when you're getting introduced to the music.

The orchestra was full of lovely people as well. Robert Houssart, the conductor and harpsichordist- is enthusiastic and fun. There were 5 violins: Emily from Boston; Marja from Finland via Cork, Ireland; Aiden and Naimh from Ireland; and Tim the 15 year old whose family I was staying with. We had one viola- Tom who has impressively mobile eyebrows; and two cellists- Harriet from the South of England, and Sara- our continuo cellist from Germany. So we were a right international bunch. Two oboeists (Sharon, England; Sian, Minnesota), a timpanist (Polly, Scotland), and a trumpet player (Will, England) all showed up later in the week. Oh, and David- the repititeur harpsichordist (he played for the singers during rehearsals).

Do you know what recitatives are? Wikipedia defines it as "a style of delivery (much used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas) in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech." Basically it is where all of the exposition happens in operas, because there isn't much space for it in the arias. They also, particularly in baroque music, are full clear cadences. So someone will sing a sentence, and then you have a big V-I and I don't know how to explain it other than that or singing it to you, but that doesn't really work on blogs...Right, so anyhow- the point of this is that through playing this music and all of the recitatives that we played and listened to- I now feel like I understand so much more of the theory that I learned in undergrad from a practical standpoint and I wish in some ways that either I could go back to those classes now, or I could have some how had this experience before (or during) those classes.

Same thing with styles of bowing and articulation- when playing baroque excerpts for orchestral excerpt class we would be told to play light, don't hit the last notes heavily, let go of the unimportant notes, know where the phrase is going and toss off those notes that are only passing. I never really got this- it was hard for me to hear out of context and really frustrating at the time. Now I am like, dude- we really should have been made to play baroque operas in small chamber orchestras, what a great learning opportunity that would have been.

That is me now. During the week however, I was constantly screwing up during rehearsals and playing out of tune and forgetting to look at key signatures and just generally feeling like my playing was not up to snuff. So I wasn't as pleased with the whole thing as I am now. Now I want to practice (me! I want to practice! Okay, so not a whole lot- but there are certain things that I would like to work up again and wouldn't it be lovely to play for fun? Without any sort of pressure?) because then if I get to go back again next year, I wouldn't freak out everytime Robert whipped his head around because I jumped an entrance or played a wrong note. To be fair, I was right next to him so he could hear me clearly, but his starting every time I messed up was not helpful.

Anyhow- enough of my angst about my playing: Handel sure knew how to write music. I don't think I have ever fallen in love with an opera/oratorio like I have with this one. It wasn't just the arias that would get stuck in my head; it is such a lovely work that I would get bits of recitative stuck in my head. 'O That I on Wings Could Rise', one of Theodora's arias. Lovely. And anything Irene sings. 'Wither, Princess, Do You Fly'. And most of the choruses.

It's a heartbreaking story too- the christians are all told to make a sacrifice to the Roman god Jove or be killed. Theodora, a christian princess and Irene, her group's pristess refuse. Instead of killing Theodora though- because shis such a prominent christian, she is setanced to be turned in to a whore. This, because she is so very virtuous is worse than death. Didymus, a Roman soldier is so overcome and impressed with her virtue that he goes to tr save her and convinces Theodora to switch places with him in her prison cell. Didymus is found out and sentenced to die for helping the prisoner to escape. Theodora is also now sentenced to die should she be found. Overjoyed that her virtue is still protected, Theodora races back to the palace to turn herself in. Both Didymus and Theodora argue that they should be killed in place of the other. In interest of fairness, they are both killed. The end.

Obviously this is a bit more nuanced in the actual opera.


Norfolk was amazing.

It was blissful weather most of the time and so I frequently went on bike rides around the area- one lane roads (no worries about which side to be on then!) through wheat fields and wild flowers with rabbits jumping out all the time and pheasants and hawks and butterflies and little boys on bikes who challenge you to races. Oh, and centuries old farm houses and a community pea patch that smelled like dill (you have to remember that I actually *like* dill, so this was nice.) And that was just the bike rides!

We put together an opera from scratch in 3 weeks. The instrumentalists were only there for the last week (or, in the case of Will our trumpeter- only the performances. Why did Handel only write trumpet into one movement of a 58 movement work?) and for the first couple of days we were rehearsing around 9 hours a day. So, a little bit in to the deep end after not playing hardly at all for most of the year.

The singers were from all over the place, but a the largest group of them were from DIT in Dublin. Dublin Institute of Technology School of Music and Drama. (Why does a school of technology have a conservatory? Same reason a university synonymous with medicine has a conservatory- the conservatories keep going bankrupt.) There were also a bunch of Australians and two other Americans- my accent was all over the place.

We were housed with various area families. I was with the Lakzo Schroeders- who are wonderful and have 5 children. The first night I was there was very cold; so the older members of the family (The parents Norbert and Tina and their eldest son Tim who played violin with the orchestra) and I sat by the fire in their 17th century living room and chatted about all sorts of things. This proved to be too tempting for the younger members of the family who had all already been put to bed- so one by one they tromped down the stairs with their wet, freshly bathed heads and curled up on their parents laps or on the rug in front of the fire. It was all ridiculously charming.

Everyone got very involved in the making of the costumes, sets, and props. Though mostly the costumes. We needed Roman armor (sawed off flower pots), various Roman lady outfits, christian peasant clothes, etc. All of the singers had at *least* one costume change and all of the costumes were made on site in a little house down the road from the church we were performing in. They were designed and made mostly by Gidon Saks (
who it turns out is quite a successful opera singer himself. Like, really successful. And he was making the costumes, 'cause he wanted to. Also, he is a total character and I adore him even though he was slagging off Seattle because he had bad experiences there with Seattle Opera and the Ring Cycle. The costume house was *tiny* by the way. Like, small enough that I could bump my head on the rafters. Gidon is definitely over 6' tall, so I'm not really sure how he survived. He also did a masterclass that I went and watched and was alternately inspired and rolling on the floor with laughter.

The performances took place in St. Mary, South Creake ( There is a roster on the wall of vicars for the congregation and it goes back to the 1100's. Cool, huh? I had never seen a church before that had both historic graveyards and a very current graveyard. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Robert Pilch (d.1879) and Susanna Collins (d.1798) as well as the George brothers (d. Oct. 1916, Nov. 1916, 1919). We had built a stage in the center of the church so that the opera was in the round. A little bit weird, but effective. We weren't allowed to have our final, ending party until everything was completely cleaned up and put away and the church put back to rights. We managed to complete this in an impressive hour and a quarter.

There was a wonderful community spirit throughout the whole place and I'm hoping to go back again either for the Easter concert of another of these operas that they do in the summer. It's a strange thing though- I've never heard of any other summer program that was entirely invitation only and depended so completely on who you know. Peter is the one who got this gig for me. Thanks, Peter!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On my way

Today has been a big day already and it is only just past noon.

For the rest of the summer my stuff, and sometimes my self- will be staying in Stoke Newington in a house that is being rented by friends of my friend Imogen. I am staying in a room on the top floor (3rd or 2nd depending on how you count it) and the people I've met who already live there are lovely. But mostly I'm excited not to be homeless and also to have somewhere to store *all my stuff.*

How did I get this much stuff? I came with three suitcases and now just moved with the aid of a van. Like, a proper van for transporting stuff- not a minivan which is called a "people carrier" here. Funny story that- I called up a taxi service yesterday, explained that I was moving all of my worldly possessions and could I hire a car? They said certainly and so at 11am this morning a people carrier showed up. Unfortunately- the driver took one look at all of my *stuff* and decided that his band new people carrier could not take it all. Which is reasonable and his prerogative- but still put me in a bit of a bind. So I called up the taxi service again and they said that they could send a van (two seats, lots of plywood covered storage area), but I could not ride with it. Since at this point I was getting panicky- I said Okay. I would ride the bus and hope my new housemates were nice people who would help unload the van before I got there.

Fortunately it all turned out peachy. The driver, Aaron, was lively and entertaining and helped me load all of my *stuff* and then let me ride in the van too. Because he's cool. He's from Sweden, but his mother is Jamaican and he grew up in Leeds where he played professional football for a while. His partner just got pregnant and their first child is due on Christmas eve- he's not sure about names but he really likes "Casey" and he asked if I minded if he put that on the list? I said absolutely, go for it.

I leave for King's Cross station in half an hour or so with my bass, my little red bag, my stool, my backpack, and another bag that I meant to leave at the sublet house but accidentally forgot. I'm taking all of this on the tube in order to get to the train station where I am meeting Lisa Hanson for lunch before getting on a train to Kings Lynn station in Norfolk where I will spend the week trying to remember how to play the bass.

I'm going to Norfolk for a week of Handel Opera. Well, technically an oratorio- Theadora. We're rehearsing all week and then performing next weekend. The singers and continuo players have already been there for a week. I have no idea what I'm getting in to. But it should be good- the food we get is apparently legendary.

Last night I went out to Walthamsthow for a lesson with Peter McCarthy. It was great to see him and catch up, and truly lovely to get to play his bass. Magnificent instrument. However, it was unsettling to realize just how very much I have forgotten. Yes, I have played bass this year- but it is a very different thing to be using a bass to make a riff on versus the much more nuanced playing that is needed for baroque and classical music. I'm pleased I had the lesson before the rehearsals begin, but I am more than a little nervous about this whole process now. That being said- before they had me, they had no bassist at all- so better me than nothing. And I'm not terrible. I do have a degree in this after all. I just haven't played in an orchestra in two years.

I am bringing my computer along with me, so hopefully I will be able to blog from out there. Obviously this is subject to what sort of Internet I can find- but at the very least I'll write some blogs and take photos to post when I get back on the 27th.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Bunches of new photos from the past month are now on flickr! Yay!

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I took my own sweet time writing about this one, huh? Thanks for your patience!

Basically- it went totally swimmingly. The three of us met up at 5:30 and took over the green room at Bishopsgate Institute to do some run throughs and basically just make sure that we knew what we were doing. I made sure we timed them all as well because I was massively paranoid that we were going to cut various sections short and end up with a 5 minute piece instead of 10. This was a totally valid fear as our first run clocked in at 6 minutes...

Fortunately we all relaxed and began to focus on things like dynamic change, the pace of the piece, and actually began listening to each other instead of just trying to remember what came next. We rehearsed for about an hour, brought all of the equipment downstairs, did a quick sound check to make sure that the balance between the instruments and the various amplification methods were working and then sat down to watch the start of the show.

There were six of us performing that evening. Kate, Jorge, Andreas, Heather, Nick, and myself. Kate's piece started off the evening and it was beautiful and well played and enjoyable to listen to. I had spent the whole day up until that point being really excited about the performance instead of nervous; but as soon as I heard Kate's piece I began to get nervous and stayed that way through most of the rest of the concert. Every one's pieces were interesting and engaging and it was a lovely concert.

During the intermission I went over and talked to Jo who said happy fourth of July and then did finger fireworks for me. She made the shapes with her hands and did a remarkably accurate vocal sound track to the fireworks. We decided our favorites were the swirly ones that have that really high pitched whine. I know this sounds weird, but it was totally cool and I left feeling like I really had seen a fireworks show. With all my favorite colors too.

Anyhow, back to the show- we were on last and I play the first notes of the piece. Thank god for vibrato- that way you can shake and not harm the music! It only took about 30 seconds to relax and start really enjoying what we were playing. By the penultimate section I was grinning hugely and putting my whole body into my playing.

We got a huge round of applause and I spent the rest of the night continuing to grin. Cos, Kate's bassist from her band The Rude Mechanicals came up afterwards and told me that my piece had been his favorite, that he was impressed with how well I managed to combine acoustic and electronic elements. I told him it was my first piece and he was shocked! Yay!!!

Unlike my Senior recital at Peabody where it took me months to be able to listen to the recording of my recital, I listened to this piece within 15 minutes of having played it. And then I listened to it again. And I've listened to it a couple of times since, because I still get a big kick out of it.

To celebrate I brought Dave and Gemma, and Jon and Ella back to our flat for some food where we then proceeded to play Boggle and Pit until 3:30 in the morning. It was super fun, and a verbal enough crowd that the competition in boggle was intense.

I am trying to figure out how to post the recording of the performance on the blog, but blogger doesn't host sound files, so I am exploring other hosts for that. In the meantime, if you would like to hear it, email me and I will see if I can get the file small enough to email back to you.

Moving Day

Today is the big move-out day for Sundial for most people. A few of us are staying until the end of next week for various reasons, myself because I still have a workshop to do on Monday and I'm not sure entirely where I will be sub-letting from yet-so this gives me an extra week to sit down and figure that out.

Moises and Meredith already left for Spain and America weeks ago, so it has just been Latana, Patrick, and me in the flat. Last night we were all boxing up our kitchen stuff and cleaning like mad. There have been horror story rumors floating around the building about how the facilities department totally makes stuff up in order to hold on to your deposit- so we were determined to give them nothing to complain about...

I hadn't totally wrapped my head around the fact that last night was the last night in flat nine. I got all of my stuff packed and moved in plenty of time though, which is saying something considering the last two times I have had to move. Driving across country last summer the only thing that managed to save me was huge, ridiculous amounts of help from Zane, Liz, and Miranda. Packing for London in September, I was at *least* 45 minutes late getting going for the airport and that was after literally staying up all night packing. So done and cleaned by 11am? I rock.

I haven't moved very far though, only to flat 11- which is across the hallway on the same floor in the same wing of Sundial. Unfortunately, whomever just moved out wasn't as inspired in their cleaning as we were. Also, flat 11 doesn't get cleaned until after the Guildhall people move out and real live paying customers come in. So I'm going to need to clean another room, because it is gross and used to be inhabited by a smoker. Oh well, just one week. At least I didn't have to move very far.

I am astonished by how much stuff I have managed to accumulate in one year. Part of it, of course, is the stuff that I kept having people bring over from America for me, but a lot of it is from my remarkable ability to attract pieces of paper. So much paper. And instruments. The bass, the djembe, the other bass, the amp, the bass stools that I have two of because they were sold in a pair...

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I've been trying so hard to load the video of the MapMaking rehearsal, but it will *not* finish loading, so I will try again tomorrow. Stay tuned....

Independent Practice Enquiry (IPE)

Our final project for the year- 10 minutes of music written/created/led by you. One of the very few things we are technically graded on and talked up a bunch, so we're all a bit nervous. Mine was supposed to be this cool cross arts improvisation collaboration thing. Remember when I wrote about that? Long story short- scheduling people was harrowing and impossible, so it has now changed completely. Now I am doing a piece based on MLK Jr's "On the Mountaintop" speech with my friends Dave and Jon. (Hi, Jon!)

We have been working on it for just over a week now (started last weekend) and because of our schedules have only had about two and half hours together to write the piece and rehearse it. I've spent most of this week panicking quietly- but we managed to have 15 minutes together today and ran the piece. We are still going to need to do some serious rehearsing the hour before the show starts, but we've pulled it together! We have a totally stable structure, it is going to be just about long enough (provided we don't cut any of the improvisations too short), and best of all- after tomorrow night it will be DONE. Which means I am practically DONE for the year. Which is awesome.

These pictures are from our rehearsal in my room which was cramped and hilarious, but I don't think you quite get the feel for the cramped hilarity from these photos. But trust me, it was impossible to move.

City of London Festival

Heather's IPE piece
9lives- check out the electric! (I'm so hip.)
Emma's beautiful IPE song about the 1666 fire of London.

9lives had a gig with the City of London festival yesterday. There is a bandstand in Finsbury Circus and we played for an hour in the early evening. We played the two songs that we have collaboratively written: Earth and "D" as well as a number of member's IPE (Independent Practice Enquiry) final project songs. The sound quality was a little weird because of the acoustics of the band stand and being outside- but man, we played well. Here are some pictures from the gig. No recording, sorry about that. But we are planning on getting into the recording studio at school early next year to do a demo and start up a myspace page for the band. Of course, that will mean that we need to have more than 20 minutes of music total....